Pattie Mallette thought her teenage boy’s musical talents were good enough to put online. Two years later, she and her son, Justin Bieber, flew — his first time on a plane — to meet his future manager. Later, they moved from their hometown of Stratford, Ontario, on the strength of a record deal with Usher’s music label.
Bieber Fever? Raging. By the start of 2010, Bieber’s first album, “My World,” had gone platinum. In keeping with today’s hyperspeed stardom, his second album followed within five months, and he embarked on a sold-out, six-month concert tour. (During the rush, Universal wisely snagged him in an exclusive agreement.) Somewhere during all this, he turned 16 and got a Lamborghini from Diddy. Sweet.
Canadian roots aside, Bieber proved a top product in the American teen-idol pop factory, and without a Disney or Nickelodeon contract — a positively anarchic notion these days. Still, adult critics dubious about his Internet rise were swayed by his vocals. One L.A. Times critic wrote, “His ascent story … belies a jackpot voice.” The same review rapturously described “melismatic trills, sassy street inflections and coffeehouse acoustic pleas.”
Bieber worked overtime factory hours. He made multiple award-show appearances (including a bonus, self-mocking MTV Movie Awards promo), a slew of commercial deals (get a special Justin Bieber “One Less Lonely Girl” bouquet for Valentine’s Day), quaint throwback contests (win Justin Bieber as Principal for a Day), and merchandising (Toy of the Year-nominated singing dolls and, peculiarly, nail polish).
He also stuck by his online video roots. After catching a viral video of a 3-year-old fan weeping (as millions of others did), he paid a surprise visit to the family on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” No wonder his mentor Usher dubbed Bieber a “hero.”
Bieber saturation worked: In 2010, he has made musical history as the youngest solo artist to have two albums in the U.S. Billboard Top 200 and the youngest solo male to hit the top spot since Stevie Wonder. To help adults confused by his sudden ubiquity, articles like “The Justin Bieber Guide for Old People” helpfully explain his bona fides as the “first ‘YouTube Sensation’ to make it big.” (Sorry, Kimbo Slice.) His “Baby” video ranks as the most-watched single video on YouTube, bypassing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (although Lady’s collective work beats the teen). And don’t forget his influential ‘do.
Oh, and then there’s credibility: He swept the American Music Awards in four categories, beating his own mentor.
The real secret: The tireless self-promoter has stayed close to his followers — 6 million on Twitter alone — although that may backfire. Jealous girls don’t like it when a teen idol makes out with someone other than them. (Then again, Twitter power helps when you’re turning the tables on a hacker.)
Bieber didn’t stick to just 140 characters: He also released a coming-to-fame-please-don’t-call-it-a-memoir tale revealing the Bieber backstory. (For shorter attention spans, there’s a comic book.) He even made moves to conquer television, from sketch comedy on “Saturday Night Live” to bad-boy bomber drama on “CSI.”
–Vera H-C Chan